Thailand’s best island hopping routes

Thailand does island hedonism like no other. Even as some beaches become more developed and travelers start exploring new territory, island hopping never gets old. There are always new experiences to revel in and new beaches to explore. So, here’s a rough guide of our favorite routes to inspire your next island excursion.

Best months to go: For less rain (but more crowds) head to Thailand’s west coast islands from November to March.

The route: Phuket is the perfect base for island hopping. The island province has the most diverse accommodation, nightlife and beaches of all the islands. It’s also a foodie paradise so spend time sampling local cuisine. Don’t leave without catching one of Phuket’s breathtaking sunsets.

From Phuket you could head to a dozen different islands and one of the best routes starts with a boat ride to Koh Phi Phi Don. Stay here at least one night to enjoy the crazy beach parties and bar hop around the little town of Lo Dalum. Staying on the island also means you’ll have more freedom to explore Koh Phi Phi Lae, home of Maya Bay, by longtail after day trippers from Phuket head home.

After partying in paradise on Koh Phi Phi, take a ferry or speedboat over to Krabi. Get a preview of the mangrove forests when you dock at Krabi Town, then head to Ao Nang by taxi. Stay in Ao Nang or head to the Railay Peninsula for a more authentic backpacker experience. We love the chill vibes on Tonsai the best.

Where to go next: If you’re up for more island hopping check out Koh Yao Noi for a secluded change of pace.

Best months to go: Thailand’s east coast islands are best enjoyed sans monsoons from December to April. May and June are hot with a chance of rain, but the beaches will be less crowded.

The route: Start at Koh Samui, Thailand’s second largest island, for a little pampering on the beach. Get a massage on Chaweng Noi or explore Koh Samui’s jungle interior by ATV. Why not treat yourself to some thrills by going jet boarding on Lamai Beach? Eat fresh seafood, spicy curry and local island cuisine like horseshoe crab or squid marinated in coconut milk.

From Koh Samui head to Koh Phangan, Thailand’s epicenter of island partying. You must experience the Full Moon Party on Haad Rin at least once in your life, but our favorite parties actually take place during the lead-up to the full moon. Imagine partying in the middle of the jungle or next to a beautiful waterfall. This is where Koh Phangan’s island counter culture comes alive – think dreadlocks, body paint, fire throwing, live art shows, deep house music and people from all corners of the globe.

Give yourself time to head to Koh Tao, the ferry takes a couple hours from Koh Phangan and can be pretty packed during high season. As you reach the small bean-shaped island you’ll be confronted with white sand beaches, crystal clear waters and huge granite boulders. This is the island for underwater adventure so plan your days around diving and snorkeling at beautiful spots like Koh Nang Yuan and Mango Bay.

Where to go next: Take a ferry 3 hours to the mainland coast and explore the province of Chumphon. Most travelers use Chumphon as a jumping off point for Koh Tao, but this province has its own white sand beaches and beautiful coral reefs to offer.

Best months to go: Check out Thailand’s central islands from November to March to avoid rain. The rainy season from June to October can be epic on Koh Chang. Flash floods, anyone?

The route: Start at Koh Chang, a 4 hour road trip from Bangkok. You can even bring your car on the short ferry ride, which makes getting around the island even easier. Spend at least 2 nights exploring everything from hippie hangouts on Lonely Beach to the viewpoint over Kai Bae.

When you’re ready to move on head to the scenic Koh Mak by speedboat. It will take approximately 1 hour to reach the island and there are several boat companies to choose from.  Koh Mak is only 16 square kilometers and still pretty secluded. Go diving, sailing or snorkeling or bicycle around the island. Or just lay on the beach all day. We won’t judge you.

Head to Koh Kood to continue the island hopping experience. Koh Kood is about 90 minutes by speedboat from Koh Chang, and at 129 square kilometers it has a couple thousand inhabitants. Not exactly a bustling metropolis, but there is enough diversity of places to stay and activities for everyone from luxury travelers to backpackers.

Where to go next: If you’re not done with island hopping by the time you reach Koh Kood, check out Koh Samet, a small island even closer to Bangkok. The tiny island has several beautiful white sand beaches and a beach party atmosphere that will rival Koh Chang.

Photos: Koh Mak – James Preston, Joakim Olander;  Koh Kood – Greenwich Photography, Espen Aaeng

Read more Beach articles:

Koh Nang Yuan: The island less traveled

Haad Rin: Party hard in paradise

Lamai: The Koh Samui beach you haven’t been to

Searching for Thailand’s most beautiful, uncrowded beaches

Battle of the Phuket beaches: Kata vs. Nai Harn

Beaches of Phang Nga: Phuket’s quiet neighbor to the north